Plea for voting rights echo at BAM on King Day

U.S. civil rights activists hold a Peace Walk on the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge, in Washington
U.S. civil rights activists hold a Peace Walk on the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge to urge Democrats to pass a law protecting voting rights during Martin Luther King Jr. Day, in Washington, U.S., Jan. 17, 2022.
REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

The usual call for a day of service on the holiday named for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. became a secondary plea this year at the Brooklyn Academy of Music as speaker after speaker emphasized the urgency of passing two voting rights laws pending in Washington D.C.

“We are going to pass the John Lewis Voting Bill,” Cong. Hakeem Jeffries vowed.

In addressing a live and virtual audience he committed to winning the stand-off by Republicans to kill legislation proposed by Democrats.

Two bills combine to secure the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act. Without endorsement from two resistant Republicans, there is no hope of passage in the Senate.

Cong. Hakeem Jeffries described the impediments as “turbulence” similar to those Dr. King encountered in his quest to win voting rights in the south in the 1960s.
He harkened to the era when racist Alabama Gov. George Wallace and Bull Connor practiced Jim Crow discrimination.

In turn the legislator proposed using the day in a purposeful manner.
“This should be a day of recommitment, remembrance and a day of reverence,” he added.

“Dr. King was not greeted with wine and roses…he faced “Billy clubs and hoses.”

“We shall Overcome.”

“We must renew Dr. King’s commitment, Councilmember Adriane Andrews amplified.

Installed on Jan. 5, she is the first Black to be elected speaker of the New York City Council.

In a determined tone she too vowed persistence saying “we will prevail…it is our obligation.”

The 36th annual celebration invited the state and city’s most prominent elected officials. Among them Gov. Kathy Hochul, Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gilibrand, Mayor Eric Adams, Brooklyn Borough President, Antonio Reynoso, District Attorney Eric Gonzalez and Councilmember Crystal Hudson.

The latter received a standing ovation when she fired up the crowd talking about the Toure Park inferno that claimed the lives of 17 Gambian nationals in the Bronx. the newcomer to the city seat compared seeing the parade of caskets last Saturday during the funerals to witnessing the horrific defacement of 14-year-old Emmett Till who was murdered in Alabama.

“Never again!” she implored.

Councilwoman Hudson made an indelible impression on the audience imploring them to “honor Dr. King.”’

Considering that elected officials remain burdened by campaign promises, each speaker attempted to mention priorities they face.

Crime, COVID-19, housing, education, would all be topical however, they all tried to weave a message tied to voting rights and Dr. King’s dream to bettering America.

In a rare departure from practice, the State’s senior Senator Schumer set aside his annual recitation of Dr. King’s “Letter From A Birmingham Jail” to amplify a call for “fair and free” elections.

Sen. Schumer reflected on the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the Capitol, detailed his near-miss experience inside the building and denounced “the big lie” he attributes to the travesty. Before concluding he promised to continue fighting to influence “colleagues in good faith” to vote approval of the legislations.

In parting Sen. Schumer said he hoped for a day when “solemnity of Dr. King will be a thing of the past.”

However, it was the martyred Civil Rights leader who presented the most pressing argument to win a victory for the John Lewis and Freedom Acts.

“I’ve been to the Mountain Top…I have seen…I may not get there with you…but we as a people will get there…”

A video presentation accompanied the speech with Kyle Marshall’s execution of visual dance interpretation of King’s haunting vision.

Before heading to Harlem to join Rev. Al Sharpton at the annual National Action Network tribute Mayor Adams, the 110th first citizen of the city and second Black to be elected to the position implored the audience ‘to be Kinglike.’

While each speaker connected the legacy of MLK with issues of concern, the Sing Harlem choir chimed in on the recurring topic by ending their spirited chorus of “Let My People Go” with a single voice of Ahmaya Knoelle Higginsen punctuating the message of the popular song saying “Let Them Vote!”

As if all the above did not fully satiate the appetites of all patrons, former LaBelle singer Nona Hendrix combined rhythm and blues with funk to energize an otherwise reverent crowd by paying tribute to the late singer Donny Hathaway’s “Some Day We’ll All Be Free.”

Dr. Imani Perry keynoted the day’s tribute.

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